Herbivorous fish and coral reefs: a relationship we must protect | Interamerican Association for Environmental Defense (AIDA) Skip to content Skip to navigation

Herbivorous fish and coral reefs: a relationship we must protect


Vibrantly colored herbivorous fish feed on the macroalgae that covers coral reefs. These fish play a fundamental role in the health of marine environments by cleaning the algae that deprive corals of light and oxygen. They are vital for maintaining the ecological equilibrium necessary for the reef’s survival.

Recommendations for saving herbivorous fish

Targeted measures are urgently needed to maintain and improve the health of coral reefs. Protecting the colonies of herbivorous fish that sustain them would go a long way toward helping reefs recover. In order to do so, AIDA recommends:

  • Establishing and adopting strong fishing management and conservation strategies that will help herbivorous fish (particularly parrotfish) populations recover. This includes fishing management initiatives, establishing temporary or location-based bans, and strict quotas on fishing. Other measures include encouraging fisheries to diversify the species they capture. In the Caribbean, for example, fishing for lionfish—an invasive species—could be promoted as a viable economic alternative in hundreds of fishing communities.
  • Establishing marine protected areas and recovery zones where fishing is prohibited. These areas or zones, which should include at-risk habitats, need urgent protection because they are considered refuges for juvenile and adult fish. Allowing herbivorous fish species to complete their life cycles would contribute to the resilience of key marine environments like coral reefs.
  • Standardize monitoring techniques of fish populations and implement alternative management practices. Encouraging optimal standard practices would allow scientists working in diverse habitats to improve monitoring, as well as fishery and ecosystem management. Among other options, reef restoration is also extremely beneficial, and has already been adopted in several areas of Mexico.
  • Promote comprehensive regional management systems that allow local authorities to share experiences and establish shared management and conservation tools.
  • Create and implement norms and laws that protect reefs and herbivorous fish. These could include laws that promote adequate fishing management practices and effectively combat threats like overfishing and tourism that damage reef habitats. Such laws could also encourage low impact coastal development that incorporates thorough scientific and technical evaluation into the planning process.

See THE Fact Sheet (in Spanish)

Connect With Us